At 90, the actor William Shatner, the mythical Captain Kirk in the science fiction series “Star Trek”, became the oldest person to travel to space on Wednesday, aboard the New Shepard rocket developed by the Blue Origin company, owned by magnate Jeff Bezos.
SIGHT: William Shatner, Captain Kirk of ‘Star Trek’, on his flight into space: “It’s extraordinary”
It was only 10 minutes of space flight, but enough to move Shatner, who assured his return to Earth that he had been “The deepest experience” that I have ever imagined.
“Everyone should do this”, assured the Canadian actor, visibly moved, after returning to Earth. “Seeing the blue whip next to you and now you are looking at the darkness, is what happens.”
SIGHT: William Shatner flew into space: the millionaires and celebrities who become space tourists
His trip brings with it, again, the debate of whether people who go to space for a short time thanks to private trips can be considered as astronauts or just as space tourists.
It is already a complicated subject and is about to become more so as the rich and famous begin to travel into space and acquire seats in spaceships and even full flights for them and their companions.
SIGHT: William Shatner, Captain Kirk from ‘Star Trek’, became the oldest person in space
Amateur astronauts? Space tourists? Rocket pilots? Or as the Russians have said for decades, spaceflight participants?
In May, NASA chief Bill Nelson said he does not consider himself an astronaut despite spending six days orbiting Earth in 1986 aboard the space shuttle Columbia, as a congressman.
“I reserve that term for my professional colleagues”, Nelson told the AP agency.
Computer game developer Richard Garriott, who was with the Russians on the International Space Station in 2008, hates space tourist label. “I am an astronaut “he stated in an email, explaining that he trained for two years for the mission.
“If you go to space, you are an astronaut”, said Michael Lopez-Alegria of Axiom Space, a former NASA astronaut who will accompany three businessmen to the space station in January, flying with SpaceX. Your clients paid $ 55 million per seat and they plan to conduct research there, he stressed, and are not considered space tourists.
Axiom Space announced a second flight for next year that will be led by Peggy Whitson, a retired NASA astronaut who has spent 665 days in space, more than any other American. The client will be John Shoffner, a businessman turned race car driver from Knoxville, Tennessee, who also pays about $ 55 million. “I asked Peggy to throw the book at me at training. Make me an astronaut“, said.
There is something charming about the word: astronaut comes from the Greek words for star and sailor. And swashbuckling images of The Right Stuff and the original NASA Mercury 7 astronauts are great marketing.
Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin has already He calls his future clients “astronauts.” It is the company that has already made two trips, the last one with William Shatner.
NASA even has a new acronym: PAM for Private Astronaut Mission.
Retired NASA astronaut Mike Mullane didn’t consider himself an astronaut until his first space shuttle flight in 1984, six years after its selection by NASA.
“It doesn’t matter if you buy a trip or they assign you a trip”, said Mullane, whose 2006 autobiography is titled Riding Rockets. Until you tie yourself in a rocket and reach a certain altitude, “You are not an astronaut.”
It is still a coveted assignment. More than 12,000 people applied for NASA’s next astronaut class; a lucky dozen will be selected in December.
But what about the passengers who are on the International Space Station, like the Russian actress and film director who will fly to the space station in October? Or the dazzled billionaire from Japan who will follow them from Kazakhstan in December with his production assistant accompanying them to document everything? In each case, a professional cosmonaut will be in charge of the Soyuz capsule.
SpaceX’s high-tech capsules are fully automated, just like those from Blue Origin. Then,wealthy customers should be called astronauts and your guests even if they learn to handle them in case they need to intervene in an emergency?
Perhaps even more important: Where does space begin?
The Federal Aviation Administration limits its commercial astronaut wings to flight crews. The minimum altitude is 50 miles (80 kilometers). So far he has received seven; recipients include the two pilots of the Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, who conducted another test flight of the company’s rocket in May.
Others define space as starting even 100 kilometers, or 62 miles above sea level.
Blue Origin capsules are designed to reach that threshold and provide a few minutes of weightlessness before returning to Earth. On the contrary, it takes 1 1/2 hours to go around the world. The Association of Space Explorers requires at least an orbit of the Earth, in a spaceship, to be a member.
La Astronauts Memorial Foundation honors all those who They sacrificed their lives for the United States space program, even if they never made it to space, like Challenger school teacher Christa McAuliffe and test pilot who died in a Virgin Galactic crash in 2014. Also at the Space Mirror Memorial at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center: Pilots from the Air Force X-15 and F-104 that were part of a military space program that never took off.
The astronaut debate has been around since the 1960s, according to Garriott. His late father, Owen Garriott, was one of the first supposed astronaut-scientists hired by NASA; the test pilots in the office resented sharing the job title.
The term may need to be withdrawn entirely once hundreds, if not thousands, reach space, said Fordham University history professor Asif Siddiqi, the author of several space books. “Are we going to call each and every one of them astronauts?”
Mullane, the three-time space shuttle pilot, suggests using astronauts 1st class, 2nd class, 3rd class, “Depending on what your participation is, if take out a wallet and write a check. “
While a military-style pecking order might work, former NASA historian Roger Launius cautioned: “This really gets complicated really fast.”
In the end, Mullane noted: “Astronaut is not a copyrighted word. So anyone who wants to call themselves an astronaut can call themselves an astronaut, whether they’ve been to space or not. “.
Competing space tourism
Bezos is one of the billionaires who have launched into the space race by launching commercial travel.
In July, nine days before Bezos, the British mogul Richard Branson reached the frontiers of space aboard a plane made by his company Virgin Galactic, with which, at a speed three times higher than that of sound, it crossed 80 kilometers high.
Branson and Bezos are joined by Elon Musk, the founder of electric vehicle maker Tesla and SpaceX, the NASA contracting firm that has already sent astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and hopes to lead by the end of this year. conducted the first privately funded manned voyage into space.
With information from AP / EFE
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